April 15, 2009

The Dissidents' War

I read Fiasco by Thomas Ricks because an American Marine officer in Fallujah told me to. “Especially make sure you read the chapter called How to Create an Insurgency,” he said. “Ricks gets it exactly right in that chapter. But you can’t quote me by name saying that because it’s another way of saying the insurgency is Paul Bremer’s fault. And Bremer outranks me.”

Fiasco is a devastating critique of the botched war in Iraq before General David Petraeus took over command. It isn't what I'd call a fun read, but I don't think you can fully appreciate what Petraeus accomplished without studying in depth the mess he inherited.

I met Thomas Ricks last week at a basement bar in Oregon near Powell's Books while he toured the country promoting his new book about the surge, The Gamble. I drank a glass of red wine, a locally-made Pinot Noir. He drank a pitcher of root beer.

MJT: Tell us about your new book

Ricks: It’s about the Iraq war from 2006 to 2008. It’s very different from Fiasco. Fiasco was an indictment. It was an angry book. The Gamble is a narrative. It was a much more enjoyable book to write. It’s an account of the war being turned over to the dissidents. [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan] Crocker reveals in the book that he was opposed to the original invasion of Iraq. [General David] Petraeus took command just after finishing his counterinsurgency manual, which was a scathing critique of the conduct of the occupation. There was entirely new attitude among Americans, a new humility. A willingness to listen. I saw this reflected in the people they brought in to advise them. Emma Sky, a tiny little British woman who’s an expert on the Middle East and an anti-American anti-military pacifist. She became [General Ray] Odierno’s political advisor. Petraeus once said to Odierno, “she’s not your political advisor, she’s your insurgent.”

Fiasco Cover.jpg

Sadi Othman, who was Petraeus’s advisor to the Iraqi government. He’s a Palestinian-American, born in Brazil, raised in Jordan, six foot seven, the first man to ever dunk a basketball in Jordanian university competition. He was raised and educated by Mennonites and pacifists.

This was a very different group of people with a very different attitude. My thought was that, essentially, the transition to Obama began in Iraq two years before it began here. Because in January they basically said, “okay, if you guys are so smart, you do it.” And they turned the war over to the internal critics of the war.

The surge was not supported by the U.S. military. The only person in the chain of command who really pushed for it was Odierno. His boss [General George] Casey was against it. Their boss [General John] Abizaid was against it. And their boss, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was against it. It really was an insurgency within the U.S. military that set out to fight a very different war with a very different attitude and with a different set of priorities.

The Gamble Cover.JPG

The biggest shift in priorities came when they dropped the swift transition to Iraqi authority which had been an official mission statement – it was number one on the mission statement list. In the back of the book I have an appendix which shows the orders Odierno got when he arrived in Iraq. He was told in 2006 to move his troops out of the cities, seal the borders, secure the lines of communication, and basically let these people have the civil war they seem to want to have. When he rewrote his orders – the orders he gave to himself and Petraeus – they were to move troops off the big bases and into the cities, and drop transition to Iraqi authority as the top priority. Instead our top priority became the protection of the Iraqi people – a huge change in the prosecution of the war.

MJT: Do you think they basically got it right?

Ricks: Look. You have to back up. I think everything in Iraq is the fruit of a poisoned tree – invading a country pre-emptively on false premises. So the question isn’t whether they’re getting it right, it’s whether they’re getting it less wrong. I think it was the best of a lot of bad options. It worked tactically. It improved security. But it failed to achieve its goal. The surge is now over, and the purpose of the surge, as stated by the president and the secretary of defense, was to improve security to create breathing space where a political breakthrough could occur. Odierno says in the book that we did create a breathing space, but some Iraqi leaders – I think he meant [Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki – used it to move backwards.

MJT: How did Maliki move backwards?

Ricks: He became more sectarian and anti-reconciliation.

MJT: At what point did he become more sectarian?

Ricks: This is Odierno’s argument, not mine.

MJT: Okay.

Ricks: And he didn’t say. But, for example, Maliki didn’t really sign up for reconciliation. He persisted with a zero-sum view of Iraqi politics where winner takes all. You guys lose, we win.

MJT: That’s true as far as Maliki’s relationship with the Sunnis, but he’s also gone after the Shia militias with much more force and determination than I expected in Basra and Sadr City.

Ricks: That’s true. He did. But I was talking to an officer who wondered why we didn’t back Moqtada al Sadr. He thinks we should have backed Sadr from the get-go.

MJT: Why?

Ricks: Because within the Shia community he is the one least influenced by Iran and the most nationalistic. His is the only group that, when it demonstrates, carries Iraqi flags. None of the other Shia parties carry Iraqi flags at their demonstrations.

MJT: Let’s back up a couple of years. Who made the decision for the U.S. to not work with Moqtada al Sadr? Wasn’t it Sadr himself who basically said eff-you to the United States? He made the call. Not us. And once that happened, how were we supposed to work with the guy? If he’s ideologically opposed to us, then that’s it. It takes two.

Ricks: We had a discussion inside the U.S. government in 2003 and 2004 over whether to engage him or attack him. Eventually, an order was issued to arrest him. And he took that as a declaration of war. But look. You know Iraq. In Iraq, today’s enemy is tomorrow’s ally.

MJT: Yes.

Ricks: If we applied that standard, that he’s a declared enemy, we never would have put the Sunni insurgency on the payroll. That was one of Petraeus’ great breakthroughs. And, by the way, in one of my favorite moments during my interviews with Petraeus I asked him how he sold the president on that notion, and he said he didn’t. I said, “wait a minute, you have a secured teleconference with him every Monday and you didn’t bring it up?” He said no, it was within his existing authorities. It was a really ballsy move. It was audacious. You want audacity in your leaders. If it had failed, the egg would have been on his face. We went to these allies of Al Qaeda and said “what’s it going to take?” It turned out that it took 30 million dollars a month.

MJT: They weren’t real allies of Al Qaeda, though. You know how it is over there. They were being paid by Al Qaeda, so we just paid them a little bit more.

Ricks: Yes. I think it was a good idea.

MJT: I do, too. But saying we put the Sunni insurgency on the payroll makes it sound more cynical than it was. It’s not like we put [Al Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al] Zarqawi on the payroll. We put the moderate, more flexible ones on the payroll.

Ricks: Oh, bullshit. We had guys on the payroll who cut off heads, who had killed American soldiers.

MJT: We killed Zarqawi. We flipped and paid the flexible insurgents, the ones who were not particularly ideological.

Ricks: The ones who were venial.

MJT: Before they flipped I wondered why on earth we were even fighting them in the first place.

Ricks: That’s what [Petraeus advisor David] Kilcullen said. 90 percent of the people are fighting you because you’re in their neighborhood.

MJT: Yeah.

Ricks: And if you get out of their neighborhood or cut some deals with them…

MJT: Yes. And we were never going to flip Zarqawi and his guys.

Ricks: Right.

MJT: We could never pay them enough money. They’re real enemies of the United States. But with the others we could say, ‘listen, this is stupid, we should stop this.’

Ricks: Yeah. And Sadr’s people entered into secret negotiations with the United States in, I think, 2007, about whether or not to have negotiations. They said “before we begin any talks, we have to have a date certain when you will withdraw from Iraq.” The American policy said “we can’t do that.” So the Sadrists said “well, then we can’t have talks.” Then the Americans said, “well, just out of curiosity, what was the date you had in mind?” The Sadrists said 2013. Which put them on the right-wing of the U.S. Congress.

MJT: [Laughs]

Ricks: It’s funny. I was talking to Kilcullen about this the other day. You know who Kilcullen is, right?

MJT: Of course. Brilliant guy. [He’s an Australian counterinsurgency expert and advisor to General Petraeus.]

Ricks: He is so smart. Kilcullen was meeting in a safe house with some Sadrists in Baghdad. They had been working with Sadr, but also talking to Americans on and off for years. Kilcullen realized he was talking to a former military officer, a civil engineer, and an accountant. These are the three elements of reconstruction: military security, civilian reconstruction, and finance. And a light bulb went on in Kilcullen’s head. He said “if you guys were going to secure Sadr City, how would you do it?” They began huddling and talking urgently. Kilcullen said “sorry, fellas, I didn’t mean to insult you.” They said “no, no, you didn’t insult us, it’s just that in the four years of talking to Americans, nobody ever asked us that.” This was the change in Iraq.

One of the points in the book is that the surge fighting was tough, the toughest six months of the war, even tougher than the Second Battle of Fallujah. It was a sustained six month battle.

MJT: The first half of 2007. In Bacouba, Mosul…

Ricks: …and Baghdad. I capture it in the siege of Tarmiyah. There were 38 guys in Tarmiyah, the northernmost surge outpost in the Baghdad area. They got car-bombed, mortared, RPGed, and machine-gunned. They held the post, but at the end of the day they had two dead and 29 wounded. The car bomb was heard seven miles away.

But my favorite part of the book isn’t about fighting. It’s called “The Insurgent Who Loved Titanic.” It’s about Captain Sam Cook. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across him. In the little town he’s in, he hears about an insurgent boasting that he set off 200 bombs against Americans. Cook is a really smart guy. He’s been around a while. He was on his second or third tour in Iraq. He sent an invitation to the guy for a cup of tea. That said two things. It said “I know where you are.” And it said “I know who you are.”

The guy comes and says “if you know who I am and where I am, why didn’t you arrest me?” Cook said “because I’ve invited you for tea and won’t abuse the rules of hospitality.”

What Cook wants to do – and I think you understand – is bring in the network. He wants to understand the guy and his network, not just kill or capture one guy. And they began talking. Cooks says, “look, if I see you in the street tomorrow, I might shoot you. But let’s talk. You’re here. Let’s have tea.”

MJT: That’s very Arab. They like to have tea when they aren’t shooting each other.

Ricks: Yeah. And it goes on for a couple of weeks. And one day, the guy says “you need to understand something. I hate everything about America. America is the Devil. Nothing good comes from America.”

But Cook knows the most popular theme for cell phones in Iraq is the theme from Titanic. And he says to the insurgent, “well, you saw the movie Titanic, didn’t you?”

MJT: [Laughs]

Ricks: And the insurgent says “seven times. I cry at the end every time.”

Titanic Poster.jpg

MJT: [Laughs] The Arab world is so much fun.

Ricks: There’s an emotional connection there. The guy never comes over to the American side. He never becomes persuaded to support American goals. But after months of these talks he says, “Look, I can’t surrender to you. It’s a matter of self-respect. But if you will arrange my surrender to the Iraqis and then put me on the payroll, I’ll tell you a few things. And me and the boys will help you out.” Cook says, “Done deal.” And they do it.

The insurgent sits down and says, “Okay. The first thing you need to know is that the reason you never captured me is because every time you came to my house, the Iraqi Army soldiers at the checkpoint called me on my cell phone. You might want to take away their cell phones. Second, we have a deal with the police chief. Our war is with you, not with him. The Iraqi Police are sitting it out. The third thing you might want to know is that my sniper rifle was a gift to me from the Iraqi major you work with.”

Cook said it was like the lights were being turned on. Suddenly he could see it.

This was happening all over Iraq in 2007 and 2008. The Americans were sitting down, talking, listening, and cutting deals. In some ways, it was the Arabization of the American war.

MJT: That's a good way to put it.

Ricks: And it was combined with a real reduction in American goals. Petraeus's people never really articulated this, but in their internal discussions they lowered the American goals. They threw out the notion that we're going to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy. They said they'll settle for a more or less stable Iraq that is somewhat democratic and somewhat respectful of human rights. This was never put into any policy statement that I saw approved by the White House. They basically threw out the gold-plated Lexus that was the original plan and settled for a Volkswagen Bug.

MJT: They didn't have much choice. That's just reality.

Ricks: Except the Americans, for years, had ignored that reality. And even that minimal goal is tough.

MJT: I got back from Iraq not too long ago, and one of the things I tried to figure out – as much as a person can figure out something like this – is whether or not Iraq will be more or less okay after the U.S. either leaves or draws down significantly. About half the Americans and half the Iraqis I talked to said they're optimistic, and the other half said they're pessimistic.

Ricks: In both the Iraqi and American conversations?

MJT: Yes. Half the Iraqis were optimistic, and half the Americans were optimistic. Half the Iraqis were pessimistic, and half the Americans were pessimistic. Whoever I was listening to at the time persuaded me, and I left not knowing what to make of it all.

Ricks: Crocker's prediction is that the future of Iraq is Lebanon.

MJT: Iraqis will be lucky to get to where Lebanon is. I've worked in both countries, and Lebanon is like the Star Trek universe compared with Iraq.

Ricks: [Laughs]

MJT: Where do you fall in this spectrum of opinion? Do you think Iraq will be at least sort of “okay,” or do you think it's a doomed country?

Ricks: Iraq will not be okay. Americans are not going to be happy with the ultimate product. The best case scenario, I think, is an Iraq that is not democratic, not really stable, still has some violence, and is probably a closer ally of Iran than the United States. This is why the invasion of Iraq was the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy.

MJT: Bigger than Vietnam?

Ricks: Oh, absolutely.

MJT: In Vietnam we lost 50,000 people and killed two million of theirs.

Ricks: Vietnam was at the periphery of U.S. interests. The Cambodians suffered a holocaust...

MJT: ...Twenty five percent of them were killed...

Ricks: ...and America's allies in Vietnam spent 15 years in “re-education” camps. But six years later we were saying it's morning in America. It ain't going to be morning in Baghdad any time soon.

MJT: Sure, but it was morning in America, not morning in Saigon.

Ricks: Yeah, but when you walk out of Baghdad...This is why I think staying in Iraq is immoral, but leaving Iraq is even more immoral. There are no good solutions. The least bad solution is staying in smaller numbers for many years to come. If you walk out of Iraq tomorrow, that's the Jerry Rubin solution. Remember Jerry Rubin? He was asked what he's going to do after the revolution, and he said he was going to groove on the rubble.

Iraq would rubble-ize.

MJT: I think so, too.

Ricks: There would be a civil war. And it could spread and become a regional war in the middle of the world's oil patch. This is why Iraq is a bigger strategic problem than Vietnam. You could walk away from Vietnam. You can't walk away from Iraq.

That's not just my opinion. I had dinner with Henry Kissinger, and I asked him which is the bigger problem strategically, Vietnam or Iraq? And he said Iraq.

The argument from the Bush Administration is, well, at least we got rid of Saddam Hussein. But I'm not sure we did. There are a lot of little Saddams in Iraq. And some day, one of them is going to grow up and be a big Saddam, and he'll probably be a smarter, younger, tougher, meaner version.

MJT: Meaner would take some effort.

Ricks: We took out a guy who was dumb as a box of rocks. He was the only world leader who thought he could take on the U.S. military with conventional means.

MJT: [Laughs]

Ricks: He was in some ways our ideal enemy. The guy who emerges will have studied how to take on the Americans for 25 years. And any strongman who emerges will almost certainly be anti-American because if you can unify Iraq, it will probably be on the basis of anti-Americanism.

MJT: I don't know if unification on anti-Americanism will really be possible. The Sunnis are anti-American, no question about it. The Shias are mixed, around 50-50, and the Kurds are, well, forget it. You can't possibly unify the Kurds around anti-Americanism.

Ricks: That's true.

MJT: They're more pro-American than Poland.

Ricks: Well, we sell out the Kurds every twenty years.

MJT: Yes, we do. Actually it's more like every fifteen. According to them, eight times since World War I.

I'm curious what you think of Michael Yon's work, and I'll tell you why I'm asking this question. When friends ask me what they should read about Iraq, I say “read Fiasco by Thomas Ricks and Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon.” They're very different books, about different time periods in the Iraq war, from different perspectives, but combined I think they fit well together. I don't think your book and Yon's book are contradictory, although some people might think so.

Moment of Truth in Iraq Cover.jpg

Ricks: I'm a big fan of Michael Yon's work. Sometimes I worry if there's some blogging feud that's going on.

MJT: Not that I'm aware of. But some readers might think they'd like one and not the other. I actually liked both.

Ricks: I like Yon's work quite a lot. I've followed him closely in Afghanistan lately, and I'm very impressed by him. He's done some really interesting work in dangerous areas. I think he's a bit over-optimistic about Iraq, though. He thinks the war is over. And my response is that the war changes. It morphs. It began as a blitzkrieg invasion, it became a botched occupation that led to a slowly rising but durable insurgency. It then led to a small civil war. It then became an effective American counter-offensive. It's now in an odd lull period where people try to sort out what a post-Bush and maybe post-American Obama-run war will look like. It morphs, but it doesn't end. I think American troops will be fighting and dying in Iraq for another ten or fifteen years.

MJT: Really? You think that long?

Ricks: Yeah.

MJT: You're definitely gloomier about it than I am.

Ricks: It will be in smaller numbers. Odierno says in the book that he would like to see 35,000 troops there in 2015. I don't think any American troops were killed by violence in Germany after the war. A lot of them died in car accidents.

MJT: I think you're right. I think there were none.

Ricks: The war will be over when American troops stop dying. Then our war will be over. When Iraqis stop dying, their war will be over.

MJT: Yon looks at it from a military point of view. He's a former soldier, so that's his filter. I'm a bit gloomier about Iraq than he is, but I'm not a military guy. The other factors, the politics and culture of Iraq, aren't encouraging.

Ricks: You do have to look at it politically. It's never going to be a strictly military question. The military is only a means to get to a political end. The Middle East is profoundly Clausewitzian. It's either armed politics or political warfare. You have these guys on a continuum. You have militias with political wings, and you have political parties with armed wings.

MJT: A lot of the Middle East is like this. Not Kuwait, but certainly Lebanon.

Ricks: I think it's a great story, the last couple of years. I'm just fascinated by it.

MJT: It is interesting, isn't it?

Ricks: Another difference between Fiasco and The Gamble is that in Fiasco I knew what the events were that I had to write about. I just had to provide context, meaning, and depth. I knew I'd have to write about the invasion, blowing up the UN headquarters, the first battle of Fallujah, the second battle of Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib. In The Gamble, it wasn't clear to me what the major events were, partly because there was so much less media coverage. The media was less equipped to cover a counterinsurgency. The battle in Basra in the spring of 2008 was a real eye-opener for me. It was a hugely important turn of events. And there was almost no coverage of it. And the coverage it did get was wrong.

MJT: Yep.

Ricks: The press said it was a huge setback for Maliki.

MJT: And it wasn't. Although it did look that way at the beginning.

Ricks: Yeah. Americans were freaked. There was a conversation on a Friday night. An Iraqi leans over and says to Petraeus, “the prime minister wants to talk to you about doing Basra.” And Petraeus said, “you mean Mosul?” Mosul was first in their plan. And the Iraqi said, “no, Basra.” Petraeus says, “oh?”

So Petraeus goes over to see Maliki the next day, and Maliki says, “yeah, we're doing Basra.” The plan laid out for me was that we were going to finish Baghdad, then do Mosul, and then do Basra. And Maliki just threw it all up in the air. He rolled the dice. And that's one of the themes of the book. Americans taught Maliki how to gamble.

-

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 15, 2009 9:44 PM
Comments

I live in Portland (North, nearly to St Johns)and have been reading your stuff and Yon's for a good while. Thanks to both you fellows for your good work.

Thanks, too for this excellent interview with Ricks. I have been avoiding reading Ricks. So much uninformed and agenda driven matter has been written about Iraq that I dismissed "Fiasco" as probably bigoted polemics. Clearly, I was wrong.

I'll get some money to your site tomorrow,not much as I've been laid off as a tech writer, but something. The Oregonian is a poor thing for information on most topics and I don't think much of their reporter who handles military matters, if for no other reason than he is mad for Juan Cole.

I've gone on too long, but thank you for this excellent piece. You're ever free I be very glad of the opportunity to buy you lunch.

Posted by: LarryL Author Profile Page at April 15, 2009 10:53 PM

Maliki didn’t really sign up for reconciliation. He persisted with a zero-sum view of Iraqi politics where winner takes all. You guys lose, we win.

Wow, they really did transition to Obama early over there.

I was talking to an officer who wondered why we didn’t back Moqtada al Sadr.

Come to that, why not just back Saddam? Even more nationalistic, and even less influenced by Iran. Today's enemy is tomorrow's ally, right?

There are a lot of little Saddams in Iraq. And some day, one of them is going to grow up and be a big Saddam, and he'll probably be a smarter, younger, tougher, meaner version....The guy who emerges will have studied how to take on the Americans for 25 years. And any strongman who emerges will almost certainly be anti-American

As night follows day, "a more or less stable Iraq that is somewhat democratic and somewhat respectful of human rights" will inevitable be taken over by a genocidal sociopath. In Ricks' preferred alternate history where we didn't invade, the person who took control of the country after Saddam's death would not have been smarter, tougher, or meaner than his predecessor. Or at least he would have been ignorant of how to take on Americans, because he wouldn't have heard about Afghanistan or Vietnam. Or at least he wouldn't have been so anti-American, since another ten years of sanctions mixed with occasional cruise missile strikes would have cemented our reputation for benevolence throughout the Arab world.

The media was less equipped to cover a counterinsurgency.

Certainly it would require different skills than the core media competence of taking dictation from Cindy Sheehan. I know of one Portland-based rock star who managed to cover a counterinsurgency pretty damn well. I suppose modesty prevented you from mentioning that to him.
...
You know, I don't think you think invading Iraq was the right decision. But I'm not 100% positive about that, because you manage to write about what's happening in Iraq without bringing it up in every post. Yon, too. Ricks couldn't help dwelling on his opinion in this interview. Does he take the same tone through the book?

Posted by: bgates Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 12:15 AM

Bgates: I don't think you think invading Iraq was the right decision

I thought it was a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. I have mixed opinions about it. I can argue with myself. Making the anti-invasion case is easy, but I can also counter that case.

I don't bring it up in my writing for several reasons. One, it's irrelevant at this point. Two, the topic bores me. Three, I go back and forth on it myself and don't have a settled opinion that I want to make public.

If Ricks' anti-invasion rhetoric turns you off, just skip past it. At least read his two-part chapter "How to Create an Insurgency." The Marine officer I mentioned recommended that for good reason. You'll be furious when you read it, and you won't be furious at the author.

As you can see, Ricks and I don't agree about everything. We agree enough to like each other's work, and disagree enough to keep things interesting. I've talked to quite a few journalists who are just plain stupid about Iraq, but Ricks isn't one of them. Michael Yon likes Ricks, too, and defends him.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 12:29 AM

"if you can unify Iraq, it will probably be on the basis of anti-Americanism."

This is where Ricks loses me, given the remarkable successes alone since Petraeus. Anti-occupier I understand; national pride bristles at the notion of occupation. But anyone not seeing who's in charge where in Iraq today---and who facilitated that---has a filter in front of their judgment. Politics is messy anywhere, but even novices sort enough out over time, maybe a little sooner given some patient guidance.

As much as I pay attention to Tom Rick's views, my intuition has always suspected a filter. Just give me facts from ground level; I'll sort them out if they're well chosen. That's what I liked in "Moment of Truth..." I hope you can add Bing West's perspective, and others'; to even call this complex or multi-faceted seems to underappreciate it.

'

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 12:38 AM

"if you can unify Iraq, it will probably be on the basis of anti-Americanism."

Yes. It's the only force they can hate, and the only force they can blame, that is by definition external and realistically a powerful force shaping their affairs.

It’s not like we put [Al Qaeda in Iraq founder Abu Musab al] Zarqawi on the payroll. We put the moderate, more flexible ones on the payroll.

Ricks: Oh, bullshit. We had guys on the payroll who cut off heads, who had killed American soldiers.

We were just talking about this. This is a nice little dance that you and Tom do. The people we put on our payroll, we didn't use any standard of humane behavior. We put people on our payroll who were willing to be on our payroll. That was the criteria. Now, many of those were deeply ideologically committed to AQI would probably refuse to do that, except as double agents. But that doesn't mean we didn't pick up people who worked with, or even for, AQI. Because, frankly, we didn't really even know who worked with or for whom. Our knowledge was fragmentary.

Anyway, good interview. Where I part ways with Tom Ricks is the idea that long-run dependence on the US is in any way good for Iraq. I know there are former colonies who ended up picking up some good habits from their former masters. But that's a very rare thing. One in ten. Mostly, they left a legacy whereby the haters got the leg up in the system left behind.

I've never really believed that it is literally possible to thread the needle: be tough enough to keep security and touchy-feely enough to be LIKED? As an occupying force? At the same time? Sure, maybe as a temporary phoenomenon when people are grateful to be saved from war, but not in the long run. The history of peacekeeping forces, peace-enforcing, and occupying forces who start out well liked and cease to become so is as long as my arm.

We've had a more tangled path. We were hated, and now we're sort of liked, hated, feared, and appreciated at the same time. We have a limited opportunity to get out before we f*ck it up again.

American security is not enhanced by our continued presence. We can't pacify and self-popularize across the whole da*n Arab world at the same time, and in the long run, this gives the bad guys the opportunities to take potshots and build a movement.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 3:42 AM

That’s true as far as Maliki’s relationship with the Sunnis, but he’s also gone after the Shia militias with much more force and determination than I expected in Basra and Sadr City.

Think of the Bolsheviks vs. the Mensheviks, and you'll get it. Not that the Sadrites were a bunch of pacifists, far from it, not implied at all. But guys like Maliki go after the guys deepest in their base first and hardest.

He'll be a "strong leader". And he may even hold some more "elections". But unless he hands over power without being forced out by violence, democracy won't form in Iraq. That's.. possible. But I wouldn't call it likely.

You heard it here first as a prediction. The US is going to have some real tough choices whether or not to interfere when he starts fixing the election. And this isn't an easy thing - see Putin, Vladmir. When the government owns everything and offers the only jobs in town, you don't have to rig the voting booth. You just exert pressure downward.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 3:55 AM

I thought it was a good idea at the time. Now? Not so much. I have mixed opinions about it. I can argue with myself. Making the anti-invasion case is easy, but I can also counter that case.

It comes down to human suffering. I'm not a militant anti-anything, although I do tend to stand on principles. I opposed the war before it started because because pre-emptive invasion is a bad thing for the world system. That's still true. And that alone is enough. Anyone who thinks we can contain the power of our example to our preffered circumstances is a fool. Norms matter.

I can see, even given my pessimism above, that Iraq might (might) develop faster, become wealthier, and maybe a little freer and more democratic than it seems like it would have been otherwise.

But too many people were killed who would have lived to justify it. Civilizational progress is not justified at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

And personally, I doubt that Saddamn's extremes would have survived him. If Al Gore had won the election instead of GWB, we'd have probably cut a deal with Saddamn to work against Iran. And the conservative world would probably have gone with it. We'd end up with something like.. our relationships with most authoritarian, Arab countries. Which sucks. But several hundred thousand people would like to be alive, so I can't sweat that.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 4:05 AM

Thanks for a good read MJT.

This article has provided "food for thought"; hard to ask for much more.

Regards,

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 4:51 AM

"I don't think any American troops were killed by violence in Germany after the war."

Well, there was the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that targeted American soldiers. But that was done by foreign Arab terrorists, like many of the terrorist attacks in Iraq.

Iraqi Shiites are divided on anti-Americanism? That surprises me. I thought they'd be pretty much all pro-Iranian. It also surprises me that Sunnis are 100% anti-American. I would have thought that the non-Tikriti tribal Sunnis couldn't care less or preferred the Americans over Iran.

Posted by: Leauki Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 6:40 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 04/16/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 7:11 AM

While Petraeus deserves a lot of praise for the fantastic work he's done, we should note that there were reports of "red-on-red" battles in the Sunni triangle as early as 2005. At that point, from reports in the press, at least, the Americans weren't sure what was going on.

In the fall of 2006, majority of Sunni sheikhs in al-Anbar grew tired of Al Qaeda's Saudi charm, and they abandoned their alliance with AQI. According to this report:

Bing and Owen West described the sheikhs’ defection in The Atlantic recently and even the New York Times reported the security improvements in al-Anbar resulting from the change in attitude and behavior by the Sunni sheikhs.

Al Qaeda's horrific behavior, and the Iraqi's reasonable response (using their knowledge about and their alliance with Al Qaeda to kill off many of their vile former allies) inspired us to take reasonable action, working with them instead of against them.

If al Sadr presented us with the severed heads of many members of Iran's intelligence group, his Mahdi army could be considered dependable allies too, and worthy of being on our payroll.

The Awakening and the efficiency of the surge helped us deal with a very bad situation, but it would be very difficult to reproduce the success of the surge. The Iraqis were repulsed by al Qaeda's behavior, but many other allies, including the Taliban and the Pakistanis are perfectly willing to tolerate it. Simple bribes and talking won't change that. If bribes and talks worked, Hamas and Fatah would now be working with Israel and the US.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 9:04 AM

Glasnost: This is a nice little dance that you and Tom do. The people we put on our payroll, we didn't use any standard of humane behavior.

Our discussion was aborted (I was busy), and I moved on in the interview because I didn't want to dwell on the topic, but I'll say this here now: some of the guys we put on the payroll were sent to Jordan for training and background checks. Those who were found with actual blood on their hands were yanked out of training and sent to jail. I wrote about this years ago. Some also got through with a don't-ask-don't-tell wink. I don't know which percentage were actually vetted, but it's not true that "no standard of humane behavior" was applied.

Anyway, you want to cut deals with Hezbollah and Hamas -- who, unlike Iraq's Sunnis, are completely uninterested and prefer to go on killing Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, whoever gets in their way -- so I don't see why you're complaining.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 9:44 AM

Glasnost: We've had a more tangled path. We were hated, and now we're sort of liked, hated, feared, and appreciated at the same time. We have a limited opportunity to get out before we f*ck it up again.

I pretty much agree with this. I don't want to bug out instantly like Obama originally said he wanted to do (he has it about right now), but I don't want our guys getting shot in 2015 either.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 9:48 AM

Leauki: It also surprises me that Sunnis are 100% anti-American.

They aren't. The majority are, but it's not 100 percent. It was 90 percent before the Awakening. Hard to say how much it is now. But, for sure, they are the most anti-American of the three major groups. They're also only 20 percent of the country.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 9:52 AM

Michael:
You may not have an opinion (that you wish to express in your blogs); Ricks definitely does. I have read both you and Yon on this subject for a while, and I tend to think you both get a little close to the truth about the ongoing issue. BTW, "I think everything in Iraq is the fruit of a poisoned tree – invading a country pre-emptively on false premises.", is about as biased an evaluation as anyone on the NYT board of commissars. There were twenty-six reasons given for the invasion, so conveniently forgotten in the "get Bush" atmosphere in the country.
IMO, Iraq was a boil that HAD to be lanced. Thanks to the corruption in the U.N. Oil-for -food plan, and the utter failing of the sanctions, the alternatives to the invasion were not too pretty. With the lack-of-help of the Clintonite State Department limp-wristers, and lack of cooperation of the rest of the bureaucratic longtermers, prevailing would have been difficult in any event.

Posted by: richard everett Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 12:57 PM

Ugh. I thought Fiasco was terrible, little more than a collection of Dem talking points. Gamble looks to be slightly better, but Ricks is still an idiot if he's saying things like "invasion under false pretenses" and "the transition to Obama began in 2006." Everyone had the same mistaken intel in 2003, and in 2006 Obama wanted us to abandon Iraq to civil war, not double down on a new strategy.

Regarding the Sunni comment above: something most people don't notice is that a lot of the media coverage is disproportionately colored by Sunni viewpoints, which are of course virently anti-war. It's not a deliberate conspiracy (usually) but just the result of the fact Sunnis were the ruling class for so long, sort of like you'd expect Western coverage of South Africa to be disproportionately colored by white viewpoints.

This even shows up in places that make no sense regarding things everyone except Sunnis know simply aren't true. For example, the D3 Systems polls of Iraq, sponsored by major media, consistently put the Sunni Arab population at something between 30% and 40% of the population, which is about twice where most independent observers put it.

http://deanesmay.com/2008/03/17/d3-systems-screws-up-another-poll/

Small wonder most people are still astonished when you tell them a majority of non-Sunnis believe the decision to invade was correct.

Try to imagine for a moment if the war coverage was similarly colored by Kurds (who are about the same percentage of the Iraqi population as Sunnis), waving their American flags and greeting U.S. troops with flowers.

Posted by: TallDave Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 2:59 PM

If bribes and talks worked, Hamas and Fatah would now be working with Israel and the US.

In that scenario, Hamas and Fatah are Al Qaeda. They can't ever give up fighting. Fighting is their raison detre as far as their foreign paymasters are concerned.

Could we solve the Palestinian issue by sending in 100,000 troops whose first priority was to protect Palestinians from other Palestinians while establishing basic services and liberal institutions? I bet dollars to doughnuts we could. Whether it's worth doing is of course another question.

Posted by: TallDave Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 3:13 PM

Ricks: It will be in smaller numbers. Odierno says in the book that he would like to see 35,000 troops there in 2015. I don't think any American troops were killed by violence in Germany after the war. A lot of them died in car accidents.

MJT: I think you're right. I think there were none.

This should be understood in context: Germans were obviously very opposed to the American invasion of their country, but millions of them had died and the rest were on the verge of starvation, dependent on the Americans not only for food and heat, but also for protection from the far harsher Red Army occupation to the east. It's not surprising the occupation was relatively free of major violence.

It's hard to argue that millions of civilian deaths, a population on the verge of starvation, and a hostile superpower occupying half the country was a better outcome than we had in Iraq.

Posted by: TallDave Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 3:26 PM

I think Ricks is too pessimistsic. Lebanon is probably a good analogy although Iraq has much different politics. Iraq will feel unstable for some time to come but I don't think Iraqis want to return to all-out civil war unless something strongly pushes them toward it. And its neighbors could certainly do that!

But remember it's 2009 and I'm guessing--hoping--Islamism has peaked and the Middle East as a region will begin to liberalize soon. I'm optimistic on the region.

Last note: Maliki is NOT a bad leader.

Posted by: jachapin Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 5:57 PM

TallDave,

I'm not sure how to take your statement, "Could we solve the Palestinian issue by sending in 100,000 troops whose first priority was to protect Palestinians from other Palestinians while establishing basic services and liberal institutions? I bet dollars to doughnuts we could."

Are you kidding?

In so many ways, the statement seems amazingly detached from reality, and a result of projecting your assumptions and wishes about the nature and motivations of the Arab/Israeli conflict upon the participants. Have you ever read the hamas charter? Are you aware that hamas is the most popular palestinian political faction? That Fatah's main goal, the elimination of the Israeli entity, is consistent with hamas, although their preferred strategy ("the peace process") differs. There already are basic services provided to the palestinians, in all their so-called refugee camps, as well as gaza and fatah-ruled areas. What do you mean by "liberal institutions"? Are you sure they want them? Really?

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 10:48 PM

I think the invasion of Iraq was the right thing, simply because I cannot now imagine the world with Saddam Hussein still in power. His reign was ghastly, even by the standards of Arab dictatorships, and in some weird, deterministic sort of way, I feel that it was inevitable as well as good and correct that the world (the world being America) would remove him, even at such a horrible cost. The democrats should feel grateful that the republicans did the job, because somebody was going to have to. It was just against the laws of history for that black hole to continue indefinitely.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at April 16, 2009 11:49 PM

If I may continue in this philosophical vein, what made the invasion of Iraq inevitable was not that Hussein was evil, he'd been that way for a long time, but that he was also weak and isolated. This is a bit ironic, since anti-war proponents argued that Hussein posed no threat to the United States, and it was us who isolated him, but that was exactly why the invasion was critical. Kind of like nature abhoring a vacuum. The feeling was that if we didn't fill it, something else would, something that we got a taste of on 9/11, and that it could infect three hundred million people in the Arab middle east.

This was a highly urgent and valid concern, but one can't go to war based on historical speculations. You need hard, verifiable data. Hence the whole business of Hussein's weapons programs. Did anybody ever really believe that these posed a threat, and that by themselves they were worth going to war over? I never did, and yet I was strongly in favor of the war. A hostile, failed state, weakened by war with the west, was a potential cancer in the heart of the middle east, and needed to be excised.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 12:29 AM

del,

Reality is that most people just want to make a decent living and raise their kids in a decent place, whether Iraqi or Palestinian.

There already are basic services provided to the palestinians

Some, yes. But I get the impression they are very unreliable.

What do you mean by "liberal institutions"?

Free press, nonpartisan police/military, minority-rights advocates, government watchdog groups, etc.

Are you sure they want them? Really?

I think most people in any society do. Too often they are not given the chance, because those who seize power by force find such things inconvenient.

Posted by: TallDave Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 11:59 AM

TallDave,

First of all, you get a massive `FAIL' for citing Dean Esmay as a source on this.

But anyway, do you seriously believe Palestinians need protection from one another, enough that they'd welcome foreign intervention? There is crime and occasional infighting in the territories between Fatah and Hamas, but it's not as if Hamas is dumping 150 civilian bodies on the side of the road every night, like Al Qaeda does in Iraq.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 1:13 PM

glasnost,
in reference to your if Al Gore had won statement I have disagree. I think your basing that on what you know now and not what was common knowledge at the time. It's very difficult to gauge what our relationship with Saddam would've been under a different leader. As i recall after 9-11 Saddam made some extremely provocative moves towards the united states from declaring 9-11 a national holiday to subsidizing palestinian suicide bombers ect.. There was also the ambiguity of his wmd programs, repeated violations of the 1991 agreement and oh yeah the big one in my book was the daily shooting at U.S pilots in the no-fly zone. As for hundreds of thousands would probably be alive I have to ask if your including the 500,000+ that died at his hands. I doubt he would stopped his genocidal behavior had we never invaded at all. in fact had we not established the no fly zones he would've likely doubled his body count. there was no way in we could've prevented war with Iraq on some level forever, I think we were just well past that point.
As for Saddam's possible successor lets not forget who the two likely candidates for that job were. sure Uday would've probably never got the job but I don't think Qussay would've been a pushover. I think he inherited all his fathers sadism but just a little more calculating.
scary.

Posted by: ramsis Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 1:18 PM

ramsis: As for hundreds of thousands would probably be alive I have to ask if your including the 500,000+ that died at his hands

But Michael Moore said the U.S. killed 500,000 Iraqis through "bombing and sanctions."

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 1:28 PM

Edgar
Your hilarious. LOL

Posted by: ramsis Author Profile Page at April 17, 2009 2:20 PM

"I doubt that Saddamn's extremes would have survived him."

Horseshit. He had two vigorous sons ready to take over who by all accounts were even more ruthless and brutal than he was. Opponents to the war keep saying this without a single shred of evidence to back it up.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 1:00 AM

"you want to cut deals with Hezbollah and Hamas -- who, unlike Iraq's Sunnis, are completely uninterested and prefer to go on killing Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, whoever gets in their way -- so I don't see why you're complaining."

Michael, Michael, Michael, let's not let a little hypocrisy get in the way of fucking over the Jews.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 1:04 AM

Horseshit. He had two vigorous sons ready to take over who by all accounts were even more ruthless and brutal than he was. Opponents to the war keep saying this without a single shred of evidence to back it up.

Evidence? Let's see. How about hundreds of years of history of regime evolution following the deaths of charismatic leaders? The USSR, post-Stalin. China, post-Mao. Egypt, post-Nasser. South Korea, post Park Chung-hee.

Do you really want to open this nasty can of worms, Gary? You don't seem to have any beef with our buddy-buddy approach to the brutal, murderous, torturous regime of Hosni Mubarak. I don't hear your litany of complaints about our fan dance with Uzbekistan and Ethiopia, which probably compete with North Korea for the most hellish states worth, strategically, a hill of beans. I'm not postulating that Iraq would have become Switzerland. I'm postulating that we would have cut a deal with Qusay - assuming he came out on top - and started using Iraq against Iran, just like we use the Saudis. Saddamn's personal reputation and ego, and the fait accompli of our mutual hostility, held his antagonism in place, but upper-level Iraqis were well aware of how we were putting the screws to their country. They would have sold out to the Great Satan like newly minted MBAs.

I wouldn't have been much impressed with the hypothetical policy I've suggested, as I think we should be focused more on non-violent, non-revolutionary democratization in the ME, and less on containing the latest gutless one-hit-wonder demagogues. I'm just calling it empirically likely.

But GWB had a hammer and wanted a nail, and here we are.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 10:38 AM

"you want to cut deals with Hezbollah and Hamas -- who, unlike Iraq's Sunnis, are completely uninterested and prefer to go on killing Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, whoever gets in their way -- so I don't see why you're complaining."

Let's break this down:

-- so I don't see why you're complaining."

I'm not. I'm just setting the record straight about exactly what went down. I approve. I'd have expected that it led to less killing in the near future, and it did.
Different rules apply to partnering with jerks to reduce violence vs. partnering to provoke it, or partnering in fear of its hypothetical possibility. A fundamental principle.

who, unlike Iraq's Sunnis, are completely uninterested and prefer to go on killing Israelis, Lebanese, Palestinians, whoever gets in their way

Sorry. Your journalism fails to impress me as a definitive answer to this question. Not a knock against your journalism per se.

Michael, Michael, Michael, let's not let a little hypocrisy get in the way of fucking over the Jews.

Are you personally capable of arguing with people you disagree with, without acting like a sneering as*hole? I started this post mildly irritated, but on reflection, I realized that this statement from you actually constitutes progress, as it shovels the insults implicitly, rather than explicitly.

If you talked to Mike the way you talked to people here you don't like, you'd have been banned years ago. You should take that as a hint that Mike's vision for this forum isn't really in line with your determined way of being.

I tend to ignore you, because you usually come off as totally worthless re engaging. But you made an actual argument in the post above, without a reference to my america-hating, a**-licking, traitorous ways. So, some free advice: build on that. It'll help your blood pressure. And make you a little less of a net destructive force to intellectual debate.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 10:50 AM

Glasnost, for those of us benighted creatures who cannot properly match your fine-tuned combination of realism and idealism, perhaps you can spell out exactly how "non-violent, non-revolutionary democratization" might work?

And please give us your Plan B while you're at it.

Posted by: Gene Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 3:45 PM

TallDave,

Thank you for your reply. However if you reread your own words, such as "most people just want to make a decent living..." and "I get the impression..." and "I think most people in any society do..." perhaps you might understand what I meant by projecting your assumptions and wishes upon the participants. Your liberal institutions reflect a liberal western view of what a society should be like. Undoubtedly there are some Arabs in Iraq and Gaza who want these (revolutionary) things. Overwhelmingly, however, the inhabitants don't. Most want sharia, or are entirely unwilling to take a position, even if occupied by some peace-force, that would potentially contradict sharia principals. Your "liberal institutions" are alien to sharia. Perhaps you do not understand that, in Iraq, we have instituted a government that, in its constitution, is based on sharia. Those "liberal institutions" are a fantasy in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and would be fantastic (read more than one meaning of that word) in the fantasy of "Palestine".

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at April 18, 2009 5:57 PM

"Evidence? Let's see. How about hundreds of years of history of regime evolution following the deaths of charismatic leaders? The USSR, post-Stalin. China, post-Mao. Egypt, post-Nasser. South Korea, post Park Chung-hee."

None of whom had sons to take over. Not to mention the fact that Saddam himself was still pretty healthy and may not have died for another 15-20 years. You then go on irrelevantly to compare Mubarak to Hussein, more of a stretch than comparing Hussein to Hitler which no doubt would elicit cries of Godwin.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 1:20 AM

"you made an actual argument in the post above"

Which you didn't answer.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 1:21 AM

"I don't hear your litany of complaints...Ethiopia and Uzbekistan...North Korea...hellish states...strategically a hill of beans.

Boy, this is just so breathtakingly wrong. Ethiopia and Uzbekistan not strategic? One is in the horn of Africa, and the other in central Asia, bordering Afghanistan. Sounds pretty strategically important to me. And while neither are bastions of human rights, I'm not aware that they starved their native populations or imposed a cult of personality that makes 1984 look like a Jeffersonian democracy. Nor are they a primary factor in nuclear proliferation.

Just goes to show you if you talk fast enough and throw enough stuff in the air you can say almost anything and sound smart.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 4:58 AM

If you want to know the real reason America invaded Iraq, it's because after 9/11 America needed to do something apeshit crazy to restore its deterrence, and to satisfy its citizens that America was still a superpower with the will and the cojones to take it to the enemy, and didn't need to ask anyone's permission. Knocking over Afghanistan just wasn't enough. It was too reasonable and polite, and anyway none of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghani.

In the post-9/11 environment there was no way we'd cut a deal with Uday and Qusay. These two guys were literally like something out of Troilus and Cressida, and America was afire with righteous anger. No time for cynical politics as usual. Anyway, you can throw out all of the elegant geopolitics you want, this was what it boiled down to.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 5:34 AM

Mark: If you want to know the real reason America invaded Iraq, it's because after 9/11 America needed to do something apeshit crazy to restore its deterrence, and to satisfy its citizens that America was still a superpower with the will and the cojones to take it to the enemy, and didn't need to ask anyone's permission. Knocking over Afghanistan just wasn't enough. It was too reasonable and polite, and anyway none of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghani.

Nobody likes to talk about that, including me. And it isn't at all provable. No official person can be quoted saying anything like that. But I'm pretty sure it's true.

I knew, on a gut level, late morning September 11 that Iraq had nothing to do with attacking us and that Saddam Hussein would be destroyed. For the reason you just explained. It didn't seem like a good idea or a bad idea -- just a fact, like weather.

That's the other reason I don't dwell on whether or not the invasion was wise. I'm pretty damn sure it was, or became on that day, inevitable. And it would have happened if Al Gore were president, too.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 9:57 AM

In other words, America said DON'T YOU DARE EVER FUCK WITH US AGAIN to the Arab world. They did fuck with our military in Iraq, but left us alone everywhere else. Syria and Hezbollah are terrified that we're going to do it to them. Iran seems cockier, but I don't think they would dare attack us at home, and they never did in the past anyway. If our response to 9/11 would have been limp-wristed, I don't know what our world would look like today. An Arab said to me once, "If someone in this part of the world isn't afraid of you, you will do what he wants."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 10:07 AM

"you can say almost anything and sound smart."

Only to an uncritical audience. Lose critical thinking and the rest falls. Cynic and pessimist that I am, I'll add: see US presidential campaign (and results), 2008.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 2:47 PM

If you want to know the real reason America invaded Iraq, it's because after 9/11 America needed to do something apeshit crazy to restore its deterrence, and to satisfy its citizens that America was still a superpower with the will and the cojones to take it to the enemy, and didn't need to ask anyone's permission..

This is true, but it would have made more sense to target Pakistani intelligence, which still helps train terrorists, and the many Saudis who still support al Qaeda.

Aside from Western Europe (which has attitudes towards crime and punishment that are bizarre to say the least) most societies require that criminals should be prosecuted for their crimes. But if we don't identify and target the actual perps, people are just confused. It's not really justice, it's not really self defense, it's not cold-hearted realism because there was no clear benefit to us. Everyone has a different theory about why we went into Iraq, but no one can be sure.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 3:06 PM

"Iran seems cockier"

I do not see it that way.
I think they are just scared (being part of Axis Of Evil and all) and while having similar mentality with Saddam they are repeating the same mistake.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 4:18 PM

You then go on irrelevantly to compare Mubarak to Hussein, more of a stretch than comparing Hussein to Hitler which no doubt would elicit cries of Godwin.

Foreign Policy comparisons to Hitler are usually used to convey a sense of overwhelming danger to the world at large, usually without merit.

As for Mubarak to Hussein, they're different in a foreign policy sense, like dictatorships often are after we purchase them. But domestically, basically the same. Hussein had a higher body count, but if you gave Egypt a Kurdish minority, they'd catch up pretty quick. I'm all for making fine-grained human rights distinctions and all, but they're both corrupt, brutal totalitarian dictatorships, period. Domestically, Karimov = Assad = Hussein = Mubarak. I'm genuinely interested in hearing arguments to the contrary, if they have data in them.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 9:46 PM

Glasnost, I've sat in public in Cairo with Egyptians while they told me all about how Mubarak ruined their country. That didn't happen in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge.

Iraqis I know were afraid to even look at one of Saddam Hussein's palaces lest they be arrested and tortured to death.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 9:51 PM

If our response to 9/11 would have been limp-wristed, I don't know what our world would look like today.

It's sad to see you fall into the Green Lantern theory. You've hit on why we invaded Iraq, but then appeared to endorse your analysis as some kind of desirable strategy.

"Limp-wristed" is a word without meaning. AQ Core was going to blow up American stuff until we killed them. If we'd carpet-nuked Syria, Iran, and Iraq, but left AQ Core alone and paid little attention to our defenses, AQ Core would still have hit us again.

The fundamental stupidity of foreign policy is to treat "signals of strength" as "winning" and "signals of weakness" as "losing". Terrorists decide whether or not to attack you based on how many guards you have posted this week and how many of their friends are dead, not whether or not you sent a message to an unrelated tinpot dictator.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 9:55 PM

In the post-9/11 environment there was no way we'd cut a deal with Uday and Qusay. These two guys were literally like something out of Troilus and Cressida, and America was afire with righteous anger.

Is that sort of like how there's no way we'd cut a deal with Qaddafi? We were righteous and angry - and our leaders could have directed that anywhere they wanted. If they'd picked Iran instead, we'd have been patching things up with Iraq in ten years.

And it would have happened if Al Gore were president, too.

Hell no, it wouldn't. Al Gore would have listened to the folks saying we needed 300,000 soldiers, as well as the folks suggesting that a light footprint in Afghanistan was probably not how to do things, and the ones pointing out "escaped into Pakistan" does not equal "problem solved".

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 19, 2009 9:59 PM

glasnost,

you wrote: "Terrorists decide whether or not to attack you based on how many guards you have posted this week and how many of their friends are dead"

Those 2 factors are involved, and might explain most of the actions of e.g. a drug cartel, or a group of thugs, or even much of the efforts of saddam loyalists in Iraq. However, al-Qaeda and many others are motivated by a certain ideology of struggle (which must not be named, else one acquires the dreaded i-phobe label). From their point of view, the struggle is their reason and their duty. If none of their friends were dead (impossible as they just recall 1000 year ago Crusades) or if huge numbers of guards are posted (they are foolishly happy to die as they believe their supposed afterlife will reward), they would still attack. The friends/guards issues only affect their short term operational plans and timing, and the failure of their attempts.

For them not to attack, long-term, they would have to believe that a compulsive necessity (darura) overrides their duty to struggle. Even that would not be permanent, but a couple of hundred years would be, for us now, close enough.

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 5:58 AM

Terrorists decide whether or not to attack you based on how many guards you have posted this week and how many of their friends are dead, not whether or not you sent a message to an unrelated tinpot dictator.

Terrorists decide to attack based on what their political, military, and financial advisers tell them to do. That's why we give into extortion, and make deals with the "non-military" branches of terrorism inc.

In return for the legitimacy and money we give them, they throw us a few bones, and give us the names and plans of their weakest, or least trustworthy members. Terrorism continues, but these few successes make us believe that these alliances are keeping us secure.

Terrorism will continue until we can convince the "non-military" branches of terrorism to dismantle their armies.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 8:37 AM

maryatexitzero,

I don't disagree generally with your comment, which is a different description of the same situation, plus a needed insight into the false alliances we have made. But. Your comment is generic to "terrorism", without a mention nor hint of the particular ideology of struggle (the j-word, which is based on the i-word) involved here.

Your political/military distinction is a western construction which has also been cagily seized upon by many of these groups to manipulate "westerners". There is no real distinction between the "political" and "military" wings of groups like hezbollah, hamas, al-qaeda, even if particular individuals may particularly be propagandists, spokesmen or bombmakers. The distinction is in our western imaginations, fed by those groups, as they recognize its utility for them and understand that "war is deceit".

Additionally, violent combat is not the only mode of the struggle. The struggles of the pen (propaganda), proselytization, and money, are side by the struggle of the sword.

I may be labeled an i-phobe, but that is how they think, admittedly simplified.

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 10:41 AM

del: Violent combat is not the only mode of the struggle. The struggles of the pen (propaganda), proselytization, and money, are side by the struggle of the sword.

I may be labeled an i-phobe, but that is how they think, admittedly simplified.

Hmm. Then the way that islamophobes think appears surprisingly similar to the way jihadists do.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 10:59 AM

Good interview. Rick's views now are very different from what they were in 2006 and early 2007.

I don't think Ricks understands domestic Iraqi politics well. One example: Iraqis perceive Maliki as more nationalist and anti Iran than Sadr. That is why most Iraqi Sunni Arabs supported Maliki against Sadr. There are many other more subtle examples.

Ricks also greatly underestimates the importance of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Special Operations Forces (and now the Iraqi National Police.) Just look up "Iraqi Army" in the index of "Gamble" and you will see what I am talking about.

MJT, on the charge of the knights operation in Basrah; why was there a perception that the IA performed poorly . . . even at the beginning? The 52nd Brigade what broke just completed basic training in February 2008. The 50th, 51st Brigades held up well from the beginning. So did the T55 Tank 36th Bde.

I have never seen any reporting that suggested that these 3 IA brigades didn't perform well. So where was all the western press craziness coming from?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 11:44 AM

Edgar,

"Hmm. Then the way that islamophobes think appears surprisingly similar to the way jihadists do. "

My intended antecedent above for "they" was strugglers (or jihadists (oops)). But you knew that. This also perhaps suggests that those who are labeled i-phobes are simply those who try to specifically state the actual motivations of the strugglers. A criticize-the-messenger thing.

The way to success in the conflict is to understand the strugglers' motivations, not to avoid their motivations.

If we don't understand their motivations, the only way,paraphrasing maryatexitzero,to convince the branches to call a halt, would be by utter destruction (the n-word). Such destruction is clearly unacceptable to everyone commenting here, even if mentioned as hyperbole. Avoidance of the j-word and i-word in the discussion and strategic planning guarantees either defeat, or the necessity of the n-word to avoid defeat. (Or a miracle, would do it, I guess).

But the avoidance is where we have been ("GWOT") and are now.

There. I've said my piece.

Posted by: del Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 11:55 AM

If we don't understand their motivations, the only way,paraphrasing maryatexitzero,to convince the branches to call a halt, would be by utter destruction (the n-word).

The n-word is, as it probably always should be, completely irrelevant to this discussion. The political/financial wing of al Qaeda is the Muslim Brotherhood and their wealthy Gulf state patrons. We don't need to nuke them, or even frighten them with caterpillars. For these branches of Terrorism Inc., a day without room service is unspeakable torture.

We managed to convince the Iranian and Russian supporters of al Sadr to stop supporting his Mahdi Army in Iraq, and we did that without nuking them and without boring everyone to death quoting the Koran. Gulf state support for al Qaeda may be falling due to lower oil prices. We don't need to nuke them, we just have to make their support of terrorism too painful and expensive.

We also need to stop cooperating with their extortion.

Terrorism is motivated by a desire to dominate, and a desire for lebensraum. Religion is a factor, but so is greed, drug use and racism. The non-military branch of terrorism inc. is its weakest point.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 20, 2009 12:10 PM

I would pretty much dismiss glasnost's comments as he trolls other blogs with poorly thought out comments.

What I keep looking for is a realistic discussion of what the alternative to an invasion of Iraq would have looked like. Many opponents say we had Saddam in a box. They conveniently ignore that fact that the sanctions were collapsing as the oil-for-food scandal mushroomed. I think our only other option was to leave him in place which would have been an invitation for others to see us as weak.

I think another big factor was Bush's determination not to micromanage the war and, worse, the occupation. Feith's book makes much of Bremer's assumption of control and his resistance to any oversight by Rumsfeld or anyone else. Bing West also has depth of perspective through his Vietnam experience. I strongly recommend his book. It is much like Michael Yon's but West was also in more touch with the leadership.

The Army badly let Bush down by botching the occupation. They have been uninterested in COIN tactics since Vietnam and before. The Marines were better prepared in training. Kilcullen's book is invaluable about Afghanistan. I think we are heading into a storm there with Pakistan collapsing.

Good interview. I have avoided Rick's books because he looks so angry in interviews and seems to be an anti-Bush partisan where I think Bush was more sinned against by the Army than a sinner.

Posted by: Mike K Author Profile Page at April 23, 2009 2:31 PM
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